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Al Harrington’s Been to Hell and Back, All to Lead the Wizards to the Playoffs

If ever there were a story to make #BanKnees twitter advocates of us all, it’s the tale of Al Harrington’s harrowing journey to maintain his ability to play professional basketball.

Just how bad have things been for Harrington? Let him tell you, with an assist from Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report:

A torn meniscus, prolonged staph infection, multiple surgeries, Regenokine, the future possibility of microfracture and the threat of a replacement—that’s what the knee has been through in the past two years, and what it might after this season in Washington, where he’s recently emerged as a surprise bench spark for the playoff-bound Wizards.

 

via Al Harrington Opens Up on His Fight Through Knee Hell and His Uncertain Future | Bleacher Report.

Yet that summary doesn’t do justice to everything Harrington’s been through. Fortunately, that article goes on to tell the story of the past two years from Harrington’s perspective, giving the reader a unique perspective into his decision-making process when it came time to determine his future, both in and out of basketball.

I had been having nagging right knee issues in the first half of the season, leading me to see orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Steadman. He was looking at my MRI and said, “Al, you need to really fix your knee. If you want to be able to enjoy your life, enjoy your kids and all that, you need to fix your knee for real.” So I asked, “What does fix my knee for real mean?” He said, “What I’m trying to prevent is you having to get a knee replacement.” And I said, “I’m 33 years old. What do you mean a knee replacement?”

 

He explained that my knee was chipping away at a fast rate, and that if it kept chipping away, I’d need a new knee down the road. “Fixing” it would mean microfracture surgery, and at 33 years old, my career would’ve been done for the most part. But he said, “Your only other option is I can clean it out and you can try to get back on the court, but there are no promises.”

 

That night, my wife, Michelle, and I talked about it. She said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “You know I want to play. I put all this work in. Look at my body. I have a six-pack and all that.” But she said, “But what about the kids? You’ve been talking about how you want to teach your daughters how to play tennis and all that. How are you going to be able to do that if you’ve got no knee?”

 

So I’m sitting there, and all I could think about was—and this is who I am—the first game of the season when we played in Detroit. I was talking to the Wizards, and I ain’t going to lie, I cried, because I was just trying to tell them what I had been through in the past two years to get to that point. For me, I came into this season all in, like this could be my last season.

 

I had asked God. I said, “God, you just let me play one more season, and I will be done. You give me one more healthy season and I will give it up.” And I told the Wizards that in Detroit. I said, “We’re going to make the playoffs. I’ll help you all get there.” So when I was sitting there with my wife thinking more selfishly about my kids and everything, I thought more about the commitment I made to the team. So I told my wife, “I’ve got to clean out the knee now and just see if I can get back.” And that’s just what I’ve done.

There’s a happy ending here to be sure, but the plot has plenty of pitfalls. The image of Harrington’s knee, post-surgery and riddled with a staph infection, isn’t for the faint of heart. Neither is Harrington’s perspective on the way the Orlando Magic treated him, with Harrington claiming that Magic general manager Rob Hennigan told Harrington’s agent that his client physically “cannot play” anymore due to the extent of his injuries and physical deterioration. The quote seemed to particularly rile Harrington because of Hennigan’s age, as Harrington is Hennigan’s elder by two years.

Whatever resentment that comment fostered manifested equal parts motivation in Harrington, who approached his training the following summer with renewed vigor after a trip to Germany for an appointment with the renowned orthopedist Dr. Peter Wehling. Wehling is most famous in NBA circles for his work with Kobe Bryant, and known more widely for Orthokine procedeures, known in the United States (and referred to in the Harrington article) as Regenokine. After a bit of recovery from post-procedure soreness, Harrington was ready to go all-out.

There was probably a bit too much pep in his step, in fact, as Harrington admits he wore down this season in part due to his pedal-to-the-floor mentality during the offseason. It’s tough to blame him, though, for wanting to take advantage of every pain-free moment, knowing that this season very well could be his last — though he does leave the door open for next season:

Looking ahead, I would love to stay in Washington—even working in their front office or joining their coaching staff. Randy Wittman loves me. I’ve already had conversations with the team. I ain’t going to lie, what would really be ideal for me is if they would sign me at the All-Star break next season. So let me have that time to take care of my body and get my leg strong. I can do 30 games; that’s nothing.

Even if he doesn’t get those 30 games, though, Harrington got what he wanted. He’s going out on his terms, at least as much as a player in his position can. And his Wizards are in the playoffs.

If he can teach his kids to play tennis, he’ll get the picture-perfect storybook ending. Assuming he’s any good at the sport, anyway.

Andrew Lynch

When God Shammgod created the basketball universe, Andrew Lynch was there. His belief in the superiority of advanced statistics and the eventual triumph of expected value-based analytics stems from the fact that he’s roughly as old as the concept of counting. With that said, he still loves the beauty of basketball played at the highest level — it reminds him of the splendor of the first Olympics — and the stories that spring forth from the games, since he once beat Homer in a game of rock-paper-scissors over a cup of hemlock. Dude’s old.